What Makes an Eagle Scout?

Here’s what makes an Eagle Scout;

A Scout completes the requirements as issued by the B.S.A. and is approved by a duly constituted board of review.

That’s it.

So what about those oft discussed and argued qualities like maturity and leadership ability and active service? All of these things are embodied in the requirements – they are not requirements in and of themselves:

Maturity
To make it  to a board of review for Eagle a Scout has had the following experiences:

  • He has earned 21 Merit Badges.
  • He has served a minimum of 16 months in a leadership position.
  • He’s been camping for a bare minimum of  24 nights.
  • He’s proposed, planned  and carried out an Eagle service project.
  • He’s had a minimum of seven Scoutmaster conferences and  five boards if review.

It is theoretically possible that a Scout could hoodwink all of his merit badge counselors, all the members of his boards of review, all of the Scouts and leaders who have signed his advancement requirements and the Scoutmaster. Many things are theoretically possible but that doesn’t mean they are likely.

Chronological age is not important because age and maturity do not always go hand in hand.

Leadership Ability
The Scout has held a leadership position for a minimum of sixteen months. He may have been a great leader, he may have been less than great.  If  he skated by doing a lackluster job it’s not his fault so much as a failure of the leadership overseeing his work. Sixteen months is plenty of time to discuss, mentor, coach, cajole, encourage and train any Scout. If he hasn’t shown up, hasn’t done what he’s supposed to do and we haven’t taken action it is unconscionably unfair to ambush him and say that his tenure in a position of responsibility was not satisfactory.

Active Service
How can a Scout do the things listed above without being actively involved in Scouts? There’s a lot of heat and little light about being ‘active’. Here’s the way it works according to the Guide to Advancement.

So what about undue influence from his parents? I’ve had the privilege of  presenting more  than fifty and less than a hundred Eagle badges of rank (I lost count at around 40).  Of these Scouts two may have had more help from their parents than I would have liked. It did not devalue the award, it wasn’t a tragic miscarriage of justice. I just would have liked the parents to back off a bit and let the poor boy breathe.

Parents that step in and do the work for the Scout, who write his proposals and reports, is a theoretic possibility but I have never seen it happen.

Every Scout who has ever earned the rank of Eagle did it individually. In the opinion of the folks working with him he met the requirements at the time.

I’ll bet that for at least half of the the million plus Scouts who have earned Eagle someone thought he probably didn’t deserve it or was at least skeptical about the award. Our district advancement chair tells me he regularly gets phone calls or emails that cast doubts on the suitability of an Eagle candidate. He tells these people they can appear at the Board of Review or send them a letter. He will not transmit the information and he will not permit anonymous accusations. Nine out of ten people never follow up.

I used to chase my own tail about these things with every Eagle candidate. I used to look at the requirements and think they were  just too simple, they should be tougher; we should aim higher. We all have some idealized conceptualization of what we think an Eagle Scout should be. We would do better to understand the the wisdom of a simple, universal standard of achievement that our capricious interpretations must not diminish or amend.

We Scoutmasters have griped about the quality of the work a Scout does since 1910, we’ve suspected that these boys are getting away with something and that they have not risen to our idealized model. Every Eagle award I have presented was created by the Boy Scouts of America. I have never embroidered an Eagle insignia or hand-forged an Eagle medal. It’s not my award to protect and defend against unworthy opponents.

In the end I think that there is way too much angst over the ‘quality’ of Eagle Scouts. What really needs attention is not the quality of work done by Scouts but the quality of attitude, understanding and motivations of the adults that work with them.

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